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August, 2007

Peanuts & Salmon

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail today with a link to this piece by syndicated sports columnist and ESPN poker commentator (and people say my job is silly) Norman "Couch Slouch" Chad, his latest column, in which he asks for help in picking his next beer. Not while sitting at a bar, not while standing in front of a cooler. He's not talking about the next beer he's going to drink. He's talking about the next beer he's going to make part of his branding experience; the next beer he's going to drink exclusively for years and years. 

And my friend said, "I know. Its a guy that was brand loyal to Rolling Rock. But hes opened his life.  Hes willing to expose himself to new things. Set him on the straight and narrow. "

Chad's not just brand loyal to Rock, he was obsessed with it. "For more than a quarter century, I depended on Rolling Rock. It was my longest-sustained relationship - by at least 19 years - and arguably my most rewarding. Brett Favre has started 237 consecutive regular-season games as an NFL quarterback; I watched 479 consecutive "Monday Night Football" games with a remote in one hand and a Rock in the other." But when A-B bought Rolling Rock, he dropped it. He asked his readers for suggestions on a replacement (Chad asks his readers a lot of things), and took Shiner Bock as his new beer bride. 

It didn't work out (as Chad's marriages apparently often don't). "Shiner Bock turned out to be a little too elusive, a little too expensive and a little too Quentin Tarantino." Elusive, okay. Shiner Bock's not available everywhere. Yet. Expensive? Jeez, pal, how cheap do you need it to be? And Quentin Tarantino? Can he possibly mean that he finds Shiner Bock over the top? Or does he feel uncomfortable with the beer's image? Interesting: Shiner Bock, like Rolling Rock, has a different image in different parts of the country; some places, it's a hipster beer. Maybe he was just drinking it in the wrong place.

But Shiner Bock is not the issue here. Chad himself says so, he's rejected it, and he's asking for suggestions for his new "perfect sports beer." He's even got requirements, and that, my friendly readers (and you not-so-friendly ones, too; you know who you are), is where I'm going to start setting Chad on the straight and narrow. To wit, Chad's "ABC's" for choosing his beer:

Availability. It can't just be sold in some tri-county area of North Dakota. Couch Slouch has to travel a lot. And when I'm on the road, I don't want to have to fall back on Michelob or Miller Lite.

Buyability and bowlability. Is it affordable and is it lane-worthy? I need a beer that doesn't dent my champagne budget and I need a beer to complement my 147 game at the AMF Bowling Center.

Compatibility. I want a versatile brew. I want a beer that goes well with peanuts and popcorn and with grilled salmon and coq au vin. I want a beer that can taste just as good before breakfast as after dinner.

Wow. I took a look at those and realized that this was a deeper issue than it seemed. This strikes right at the heart of things. Norm is just the guy I want to reach: a guy who's a steady beer drinker who's realized that there are plenty of places, choices, occasions, and flavors in this world, but who has never thought to broaden that world just a hair to include his beer


So here's my open letter to Norm "Couch Slouch" Chad. 

Hey Norm,

Saw your plea for beer help the other day, and it touched me deeply. I'm always thinking about my next beer, it's kind of my job. I want to help you with the benefit of my years of experience. 

I read your three requirements, your ABC's of beer standards, and I'm with you on them. I want to be able to get my choice of beer anywhere, because I travel a lot too. I want something buyable -- beer-writing probably doesn't even pay as well as TV,, poker-commentatering, but then, I don't have any alimony to pay -- and bowlable, although in my case, I guess that would be euchre-able. And I damned sure want beer that's going to go well with everything from salad to dessert and all edible points in-between.  

But there's one radical difference between thee and me. You want all this in one beer. I just want it all, any way I can get it. To do that, I've got a beer philosophy that's never failed me in 26 years, and I'm going to lay it on you: there is more than one beer in the world.

Awesome in its simplicity, isn't it? No? Not sure you get it? Lemme explain. You obviously get the idea of variety being pleasing: you follow more than one sport, you like food as simple as peanuts and deep as coq au vin, you've enjoyed the company of a variety of women (whether through their choice or yours is immaterial). 

So why are you limiting yourself to one beer? It's like you've got blinders on. Think of it: you say you drank nothing but Rolling Rock for over 25 years. Did you only eat coq au vin for 25 years? Did you only watch football -- live games, taped games, XFL, CFL, Arena Football, high school, NWFA (don't knock it: I've hung out with some of these women and they're serious beer drinkers) -- for 25 years? Did you only see one woman -- well, never mind. You get the point. 

You clearly get the idea, the beauty of variety. Why not try more than one kind of beer? Good God, man, is it to save you time at the store? Save precious brain energy when you reach in the fridge? Or is it some misplaced fan mindset that makes you think only one beer deserves your support, and that makes it the very best beer in the world! 

Newsflash: there is no very best beer in the world. Just as there is no very best food, very best team, or very best woman. There are lots and lots of good ones...and arguing over which is the best is a lot of fun, but to get in the discussion, you have to try them. Then you can have an opinion that's more informed than "That beer's not my beer, therefore it sucks." Argue like that on sports and you'd get your ass kicked. 

There is no one beer that goes well with all the foods you mentioned. There is no one beer that is not a national brand of the type you apparently don't desire ("I don't want to have to fall back on Michelob or Miller Lite") that is available all over. There are LOTS of beers that are bowlable (see my plea for the session beer), and no one beer has a corner on that.

It's when you come to "Buyability" that we run into a problem. How cheap do you insist this beer be? I don't buy the cheapest beer available, I don't really buy based on price except when it gets exorbitant. But six-packs are up over $6 today for almost anything. I buy cases, usually -- it's Pennsylvania, we have's a long story -- but I buy on the road, too, and there's not a lot of difference. Besides, if you're eating grilled salmon and coq au vin, you're not cheaping on food, right? Why cheap on beer when it means so much to you? 

Open your eyes, open your mouth! There's a whole damned world of beer out there, there's a damned banquet table feast of beer. And what are you doing? Sitting in the corner, eyes to the wall, sipping from one warm can. This is America, pal, the land of the individual. Are you a man, or a sheep? 

Now get out there and try some beers. You're in SoCal, try some Karl Strauss, get some Ballast Point Yellowtail Pale. Then when you go on the road, try something local, instead of something that's been shipped 1,900 miles in the back of a semi. I guarantee you'll have some beers you won't like. But I also guarantee you'll have some you'll like every bit as much as you ever liked Rock. And you won't be married to them. Bonus. 

Happy drinking, Norm!


Lew Bryson


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Revised: August 01, 2007